A Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools advisory panel hasn't found big savings for the 2012-13 budget through outsourcing.
Six months into its three-year mission, a "privatization" panel will report to the school board tonight. Members voted this morning to recommend exploring a couple of small projects: Hiring private contractors to keep six new administrative office buildings clean and seeing if a private company can do payroll better and cheaper.
"The work that we have done so far has not discovered any big, immediate potential for cost savings," chairman Rob Harrington said after today's panel meeting. But the group will continue studying ways the district might save money and/or improve its non-education services by farming the work out to private companies.
Over the years, the notion that outsourcing can save CMS millions of dollars -- enough to hire more teachers or provide pay hikes -- has proven popular in theory but difficult in execution. Other advisory groups and consultants have tackled the task with relatively minor results.
CMS already has a private company doing custodial services for four administrative buildings. In 2012-13, the district will open additional offices in six closed schools. The people who will occupy those offices, which used to be in the now-closed Education Center, are now "in nooks and crannies all over the place," including regional offices where the lease is about to expire and old school buildings that have been replaced, said CMS planner Mike Raible.
Because the new offices don't have a custodial staff now, no CMS employees would be laid off by outsourcing that work.
The panel talked about seeking bids from private custodial firms interested in taking on a pilot group of schools, but members decided they were not ready to endorse that. Among the challenges: Private workers would have contact with students, the clean-up demands are greater in a building that hundreds of kids use, and the move would eliminate jobs for CMS custodians or force them into private jobs with lower pay or lesser benefits. Members said they also have to consider that companies could "lowball" a bid to get the business, then hike costs a few years down the road.
The group's recommendation calls for seeking proposals to see if outsourcing would save money on payroll. The CMS payroll department employs 11 people, and Chief Financial Officer Sheila Shirley estimated outsourcing would save less than $100,000 in a best-case scenario. CMS employs more than 18,000 people and has a budget of about $1.2 billion.
The nine-member panel tagged information technology as an area with potential for outsourcing, but said they don't yet have enough information to make a firm recommendation.
Barry Hall, who works in technology for Bank of America, said the district's IT costs are bound to rise as CMS introduces wireless internet to all school buildings and invites staff and students to use their own devices. But a private company might do a better job of handling the new environment, he said.
"We really need a strategic vision on the technology side," he said.